When You’re Stuck in Your Weight Loss or Stuck in Your Muscle Gain
Whether you’re hitting a plateau after weeks of steady progress, or you’ve been working hard from day one and have hardly seen a dent of change, something is happening when your body is seemingly stuck.
Is it something you’re doing wrong? Has your body simply adjusted to your routine? Let’s break down some of the reasons why your weight loss or muscle gain progress has hit a standstill.
Weight Loss Plateau
1. You’re Gaining Muscle
It’s possible that the scale isn’t moving because your body composition is changing. You may still be losing fat, but the scale may not be reflecting it because you’re gaining muscle at the same time. Author of our Body Composition article, Deanna Mercurio, explains that a more accurate way to track your progress is not with the scale but with body measurements and pictures.
2. You’re Consuming Too Many Calories
If you haven’t felt the need to track your calories, it might be a good time to start. Too many calories could be the culprit behind your plateau. Your body is smart, and it knows you’ve been depleting those precious fat stores. A study on weight gain found that the body’s internal protection against starvation encourages eating just so you will regain lost weight! Keeping track of what you’ve eaten can help you outsmart this natural response to weight loss.
3. You’re Eating Too Many Processed Foods
You might be hitting the right calorie count but turning a blind eye to the nutritional content of your food. Your body needs a variety of macro- and micro-nutrients to keep functioning at its best. Our dietitian recommends that you focus on real, whole foods and that you avoid processed food products.1
4. Your Sugar Intake is Too High
Sugar is the enemy in the battle with weight loss, partly because it’s easy to consume too much. The World Health Organization recommends that sugars comprise no more than 10% of your daily calories; that’s about 50 grams per day.2 A single beverage can easily contain more than that. Yes, that also means cutting back on healthier beverages like fruit juice. Our dietitian also warns against seemingly healthy smoothies that contain sherbet or fruit syrups. Those sweet additions, she explains, contain refined sugars that are easily absorbed and metabolized into fat.3
5. Your Metabolism Has Adapted
Switching things up can help kickstart your weight loss again. Again, we’ll lean on our dietitian’s recommendation. To switch things up, she suggests adding to or intensifying your existing fitness routine with weight training/resistance, cardio, or HIIT workouts, while adding some nutritious calories to those workout days. Those calories can take the form of vegetables, legumes, and pre-workout shakes or recovery drinks.4
Muscle Gain Plateau
1. You’re Not Eating Enough
As you gain muscle, your energy needs change as well. You’ll need more nutritious calories (from lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains and healthy plant fats)5 and more protein than the average person because your body needs them to repair and build the muscles you’re working. Read our Protein article to learn how to calculate what your body needs (based on your weight and activity level) to help you bulk.
2. Your Muscles Have Adapted
Just like your metabolism, your muscles can adapt to your routine. This is why workout routines should be anything but “routine.” You’ll need to do things differently to break your body out of its comfort zone. Remember when you first started a certain type of workout and you really had to push yourself through your sets? If you no longer feel challenged by your workout, your body has adjusted. Try increasing your working weight or incorporating some more intense training, like drop sets, to get your muscles back into build-mode. Sticking to the same routine may help you maintain muscle, but progressive overload is crucial to building muscle.
3. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water
When your body doesn’t have enough water, your muscles must compete with other organs that are also demanding it. As you lose water through sweat, your blood volume is reduced. This slows oxygen delivery to and carbon dioxide removal from your muscle tissue.6 Essentially, you won’t be able to work as hard during training if you’re not giving your body enough water to cope with the physical exertion. It’s important to hydrate before, during, and after exercise.5
4. You’re Inconsistent
As we mentioned earlier, progressive overload and variety in your workout is very important to building muscle. Now you have to make sure you’re consistent about how you train. Your body needs to know that this type of exertion isn’t a once-in-a-while thing; that your muscles need to do this job often! Consistency, paired with progressive overload, prompts your body to build muscle because the physical tasks your body is being asked to do are not going away and they’re getting more difficult.
5. You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
The right amount of cardio can help you build muscle. Too much can do the opposite. Go back to the first item on this list for a second. To build muscle, you need to eat more calories! Regular cardio can help you consume those extra calories without gaining a lot of fat.7 Cardio also increases your blood flow, which if you remember for item 3, is important for oxygen delivery to and waste removal from your muscle tissue. The increased blood flow also helps deliver fresh nutrients (which your muscles obviously need for recovery and growth)7.
Too much intense cardio, on the other hand, can pull resources away from your muscle tissue. Now instead of those resources going towards building muscle, they’re fueling your cardio. If you’re trying to bulk, keep your cardio at low intensity and low volume.8
Let us know in the comments below if you’ve learned something new! Will you be adjusting your workout or nutrition regimen? Stay in-the-know on trending health and nutrition topics and subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the Living Healthy Blog!
- James, Debbie. “How to Handle a Weight Loss Plateau: QA.” Living Healthy, 25 Jan. 2020, http://bloglafitness.azurewebsites.net/2019/09/19/how-to-handle-a-weight-loss-plateau/
- “Daily Sugar Intake – How Many Grams of Sugar a Day?” Food Pyramid, http://www.foodpyramid.com/daily-sugar-intake/
- James, Debbie. “My Weight Loss Has Plateaued… Any Advice?” Living Healthy, 20 Apr. 2018, http://bloglafitness.azurewebsites.net/2018/03/29/weight-loss-plateaued-advice/
- James, Debbie. “What to Do When Weight Loss Stalls: QA.” Living Healthy, 25 Jan. 2020, http://bloglafitness.azurewebsites.net/2020/01/28/what-to-do-when-weight-loss-stalls/
- James, Debbie. “How Much Protein Should I Be Eating?: QA.” Living Healthy, 25 Jan. 2020, http://bloglafitness.azurewebsites.net/2020/01/09/how-much-protein-should-i-be-eating/
- Muñoz, Colleen X., and Evan C. Johnson. “Hydration for Athletic Performance.” Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance (Second Edition), Academic Press, 12 Oct. 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012813922600045X
- Hitchcock, Heather. “How Much Cardio Should I Do When Bulking?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 2 Sept. 2019, https://www.livestrong.com/article/437460-how-much-cardio-should-i-do-when-bulking/
- Hartman, Bill. “Will Cardio Keep Me from Gaining Muscle?” Men’s Health, Men’s Health, 25 May 2018, https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19540296/will-cardio-keep-me-from-gaining-muscle/